More than two million Africans fought in World War I as soldiers. Their reward: more colonisation. Come World War II, they were forced to fight again, even though the war didn't concern them. The colonialists in the continent promised them freedom, should they fight. So more than a million African soldiers went off to fight World War II. Those that fought for the British were in for a rude shock as they were paid less than their white counterparts due to a racist policy courtesy of the British government.
A document unearthed in Britain's National Archives showed that more than half a million black African soldiers who fought in the British army during the second world war were paid up to three times less than their white counterparts. The document revealed how the government systematically discriminated against African soldiers, paying white personnel – even those living in African colonies and serving alongside African soldiers in British colonial units – far more than their black counterparts.
The document was uncovered by the makers of a documentary for Al Jazeera English’s People and Power series. It reveals that Britain paid its soldiers not only according to their rank and length of service but also the colour of their skin.
Following this revelation, there were wide calls for an investigation. Now, the UK government has quietly ruled that they will not be compensating the African soldiers because "a full investigation into the matter will require extensive resources". The defence minister Tobias Ellwood has privately told MPs there were “no current plans to take forward any further investigations of this matter”.
Officials across three government ministries examined the issue after revelations that soldiers drawn from Britain’s African colonies were paid an end-of-war bonus that was calibrated not only to rank and length of service but also ethnicity. White soldiers from those colonies received a gratuity worth triple that offered to black troops. White corporals received 12 shillings per month of service while black corporals received just four shillings per month.
In a letter, Ellwood said a full investigation would require “extensive resources”. He cited “competing demands” across government departments and the “difficulty in establishing an accurate factual records base”. He added that the decision “in no way diminishes how grateful the UK is to all those servicemen and women from the Commonwealth who served with Britain during the second world war.”
Both the Labour party and the Conservative party in the UK have expressed disdain at this decision. However, the African soldiers who fought World War II, some of whom are still alive, and their descendants, may not even be aware that this is going on because it was a quiet government decision in a small country far away.
"When I got out, they gave me nothing,” said Eusebio Mbiuki, a 100-year-old veteran who lives in poverty in rural Kenya, having endured brutal combat in the jungles of Burma while fighting for Britain. “They should have known how much we had helped them. They would have given something. But that was not the case. We were abandoned just like that.” Mbiuki was speaking to Guardian.
The effects of colonisation/white supremacy are still being felt all across Africa, and it is a slap in the face for Africans when the UK government makes decisions like this.
Header Image Credit: DW